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Mainstream, VOL LV No 50 New Delhi December 2, 2017

Russian Revolution and India — V

Roy Versus Berlin Group

Saturday 2 December 2017

by Shaukat Usmani

IN 1919, there was born in Moscow, a unique organisation embracing all the revolutionary socialist elements of the world. This was the historic Communist International.

There was no Indian present at the First Congress of the Communist International known in abbreviated form as the Comintern. But at the Second Congress of the Comintern, M.N. Roy, who had been brought from Mexico by M. Borodin, represented India and at the recommen-dation of Borodin was invested with wide powers and large funds for advancing the cause of Indian freedom. The Comintern had laid no conditions as regards the form the Indian revolution would take.

And, M.N. Roy was appointed the Head of the Eastern Section of the Communist International with headquarters at Tashkent.

Before the Muhajireen had reached Tashkent at the end of October 1920, a great tussle had been going on between M.N. Roy and M.P.T. Acharaya.

M.N. Roy had a small group around himself consisting of Abani Mukerjee, Mohammad Ali (an ex-member of Raja Mahindra Pratap’s Provisional Government) and Mohammad Sheffique (who used to spell his name also as Shafiq sometimes).

M.P.T. Acharaya, on his side, was assisted in his campaign against Roy by Maulana Abdul Rab, a deserter from the British Legation in Iraq during World War I. He had defected to Turkey from Baghdad. Iraq at that time was still a province in the Turkish Empire where the British had their legation.

Maulana Abdul Rab had some influence over the Turkish refugees like Khalil Bey, Hyder Bey (the Turkish gunner) and Ismail Subie, a prominent man of letters in the Turkish language—all residing in Tashkent at the time. The Maulana too had a hold on Enver Pasha who was living in Moscow at the time and was regarded as a reliable person till he organised the Bashmachi revolt against the Soviet authorities in Turkestan. He was killed in action somewhere in Ferghana.

The charge of Acharaya against Roy was that the funds entrusted to Roy were being misused by the latter. The former had insisted on the formation of some sort of a control committee for the use of the funds and for conducting the revolutionary work. Ultimately Acharaya suggested that a Communist Party be founded so that there could be a legal basis for the organisation, and that the same could be affiliated to the Communist International, known as the Third International, to demarcate it from the Second International run by the Socialists. The First International was founded by Marx and Engels in 1864 and lasted till 1872. The Second International was formed in 1889: rift grew inside it with the outbreak of World War I and after the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks took the initiative and the Third International of the Communists came into being in March 1919.

Thus, the Communisty Party of India came into being at Tashkent; neither Acharaya nor Abdur Rab and his Secretary Amin Siddiqu could remain in it.

The quarrel between Roy and Acharaya’s group ultimately reached Moscow where had now come a great many revolutionaries; none of them, except Nalini Das Gupta, stood by M. N. Roy.

Before proceeding to describe this unique Indian Summit in Moscow the writer would like to state very clearly that he had no role to play in it, because he had refused to be inducted into this Soviet-stationed Indian delegation. Friends and especially Roy was kind enough to offer him a delegaion ticket. With no intention to magnify his personal role this writer would simply state that he preferred to go to Sevastopol for getting the medical treatment for his enlargement of heart ailment. Thus his role in all this affair was that of an observer.

While the attitude of the Russian comrades was guided by a policy of non-interference in Indian affairs, the attitude of all the Indians in the Muhajireen group was dictated by an ardent desire for a compromise between the Berlin Group and the Roy-led batch so that their dream of fighting for Indian freedom could be realised.

In 1964, the writer in his contribution to The Bharat Jyoti of Bombay (February 16, 1964), described this summit. It may be worth while to paraphrase that description here.

The Third Congress session of the Communist International in Moscow, in the -summer of 1921, was attended from many corners of the globe.

From Latin America to Australia, practically every country was represented. Many a leading figure of the Indian revolutionary movement had come from distant lands. Indian anarchists, extremists among Indian nationalists and Indian Communists were all represented in a unique summit to chart out the course of a revolution in India. All of these came to Moscow as invitees of the Communist International to organise themselves into a compact body to work for the overthrow of British imperialism in India. Among them, one could detect three main groups: the first was the one led by M.N. Roy, Abani Mukerjee and Mohammed Ali, supported by a large number of the Muhajireen, most of whom had joined the Indian section of the Communist International.

The second was the Acharaya-Abdul Rab group which had merged into the Berlin group led by Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, G.A.K. Ludhani, Agnes Smedley and Bhupendranath Datta. The other members in this group were several Guptas and Dasguptas, Khankhoji, and Dr Abdul Wahid. The Turkish section, led by Khalil Bey, the uncle of Enver Pasha, had stayed behind at Tashkent waiting for leading an army for the Indian revolution; this army was expected to be raised as an outcome of the Moscow summit parleys.

The third group consisted of two individuals: Dr Champakraman Pillai and Dr Taraknath Das, both of whom professed extreme nationalist views. Incidentally, an interesting fact is not known to many that Dr Pillai was in the German cruiser Emden when it had bombarded Mardras during the First World War. He came to Moscow to meet Lenin only, whom he had known when the latter had been in exile in Switzerland.

The fiirst group wanted that all the acitvities in connection with the Indian revolution should be conducted through an Indian group organised into a Communnist Party. The hint was clear that the others should join the Communist Party of India already formed in Tashkent on the Revolution Day of 1920 (that is on November 7, 1920).

The second group insisted, all revolutionary work should be conducted through a revolutionary party in which all the Indians, whatever their political convictions, should be included. This left room for the anarcho-Com-munists as well as the extreme type of nationalists.

Lenin’s attitude regarding revolutionary work by Indians was made clear as long ago as the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920. To sum up, he said: “There is not the slightest doubt that every nationalist movement can only be a bourgeois democratic movement..... we Communists should, and will support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonial countries only when these movements are really revolutionory.” The second group stuck to these words of Lenin and insisted that all help to the Indian revolutionary movement should pass through a Revolutionary Committee.

On the arrival of the Berlin Group, Mukerjee left Moscow, because there was an allegation of long standing by the group against Mukerjee’s past record. So, Mukerjee did not attend the Third Congress of the Comintern either.

This fourteen-member delegation of the Berlin Group had come without their President, Dr Mansoor, who was at the time living somewhere in Turkey. There was one great defect in the Berlin Group: They had the habit of getting in touch with the head of a government for help and consultations. This was because of their mode of functioning in the Kaiserian era in Germany. But here in Moscow the cause of colonial revolution and promotion of the world revolution was entrusted to the Communist Parties.

With their old notions, the Berlin Group members had first approached the Soviet Foreign Office and met Chicherin, the then Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, and then they approached Lenin. Although Lenin was the brain of the Communist International, he had a government responsibility too as the head of the Soviet government. And yet he met a selected representative group of the Berlin comrades. And under his advice they met Karl Radek who, till the session of the Comintern Congress, was the Secretary-General of that organisation.

Negotiations failed. In a word, the Berlin group refused to be dominated by M.N. Roy who had earned a position for himself through Borodin; and the advice of Michael Borodin could be ignored at the time neither by the Comintern nor by the Soviet Government itself. Roy remained supreme, and one by one, the Berlin Group left for their European shelters.

Of course Chatto (as Virendranath Chatto-padhyaya was known) remained for a longer time, and this writer on his return from Crimea saw him again in Moscow in August, 1921.

The upshot of all the disputes and bickerings was that when the Congress met it decided to withdraw all help to the Indian movement till the warring factions had jointly put forward an agreed plan of work. That day never came, because of the lucky star of British imperialism.

It pleased the Acharaya-Rab group to see that Roy did not any more handle the Comintern finances.

Roy was, no doubt, an intellectual, well versed in theories. And his interpretation of the Indian situation from the Marxist viewpoint was admired by all. But his non-practical nature had destroyed all chances of setting up a unified Indian revolutionary command abroad.

The Indian Communist group however secured a concession from the Comintern: Roy’s journals Masses, Vanguard and Advance Guard were to be published at the Comintern cost. Some of the returned students contributed in these papers without giving out their names.

Thus ended a very important phase in the Comintern activities vis-a-vis the Indian Revolution insofar as these activities were centred in Moscow. The centre now shifted to India, where a number of Bolshevik Conspiracy Cases took place.

The Indusky Kurs at Tashkent—the Indian military academy—was closed down in the summer of 1921. Its use-value had ceased inas-much as the possibility of mlitary aid for the Indian polititical movement was ruled out because the Indian National Congress had declared in so many words through the mouths of some of its leaders that the Congress would fight side by side with Britain if the Bolsheviks ventured to attack India. But Bolshevism did not get frightened and approached the Indian National Congress directly to stand by a revolutionary role. This is not a mere figment of imagination. If one peruses the files of the lmprecor (the organ of the Comintern of the period), one will find in it so many messages coming to the Indian National Congress direct from the ECCI (the Executive Committee of the Communist International).

Of particular importance is the message sent by Comrade Lenin to the Gaya Congress session of 1922 presided over by Desbandhu Chittaranjan Das. This was a direct call in keeping with Lenin’s words at the Second Congress of the Comintern. The Comintern message to the Gaya session of the Indian National Congress said that the Communist International was wholeheartedly with the Indian people engaged in the “great revolutionary struggle” for ending British rule in India.

(To be concluded)

Shaukat Usmani (Maulla Bux Usta) (1901-1978) was an early Indian Communist. A member of the émigré Communist Party of India, established in Tashkent in 1920, he was a founding member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) when it wss formed in Kanpur in 1925. He was also the only candidate to the British Parliament contesting elections, while he was residing in India—that too in a prison. He was sentenced to a total of 16 years in jail after being tried in the Kanpur (Cawnpore) Case of 1923 and later the Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929.This article he wrote specially for Mainstream fifty years ago on the occasion of the October Revolution’s fiftieth anniversary. It was published in July-August 1967. The first, second, third and fourth instalments of the article appreared in Mainstream (November 4, 2017, November 11, 2017, November 18, 2017 and November 25, 2017). This is the fifth instalment. The remaining instalment will be reproduced in the next issue of this journal.

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